Making virtual teams work

Todays IT business involves a lot of distributed work, i.e. working in teams that are not located in the same world. This restriction puts a strain on the term “team” as the people interaction is changed. How do we make it work? How do we minimize the gap between people in the same team?

I haven’t got the full answer, but I can explain what we try to do to make it all work better.

Rule #1: Make all participants face the same physical challenges.

Wheter you conduct a video-meeting, phone meeting or chat meeting – make sure that all participating in the meeting are restricted by the same tools. If parts of the team is located physically together in a meeting room and other participants are online via phone; there is a risk that discussion will become awkward. It’s important to enhance the comfort of all participants to increase the quality of the discussions.

Rule #2: Get together as often as possible.

The social interaction between the people in the team is often limited to the degree of personal relationships between the participants. Strive to get the team together as often as possible – that’ll minimize the chances of misunderstandings during meetings and also increase the team spirit / social value of the team.

Rule #3: Speak the same language – through out the meeting.

To increase the benefit of the meeting make sure that everyone is speaking the same language. If your team is working cross border, find a comon language that everyone understands (i.e. English). Enforce that everyone speaks the same language through out the meeting also for social chit-chats, jokes, internal discussions, etc. during the meetings.

Rule #4: Make good tools available to everyone.

There are a multitude of tools available on the market to ease the communication within a distributed team. Here are some of the tools that we use at my work: face to face meeting, phone meetings, person-to-person chat, group chat, e-meetings (similar to Skype), webcam meetings, video meetings.

Rule #5: Meassure and take action.

Try meassuring the interaction that occurs during the various types of meetings and see what you can do to change the behaviour. During a meeting note, for each participants, the number of questions they have asked, the number of answers they have given, the number of times they have been interrupted by external interference, the number of times they make a joke/add social value to the meeting. This should give a clear picture of the social level within the meeting.

These are the rules that we follow at my work place, what do you do to face the challenges of distributed teams?